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4 Types of Security Scans Every Organisation Should Be Using

When there's a high-profile data breach splashed across the news, you might immediately wonder about your own network and if you're doing enough to protect it.

Hackers work around the clock, so there's no guarantee your organisation won't be next. And since your network is always connected to the outside world via the Internet, you must ensure its protection on a constant basis. Otherwise, your organisation is wide open to a variety of cyberattacks.

A great way to keep your business safe at all hours? Conduct continuous network scanning.

What is Continuous Network Scanning?

Yearly or quarterly vulnerability scanning is no longer sufficient to detect risks in your IT system. You need a proactive, 24x7 continuous defence to stand a chance against the hackers incessantly probing your network.

Continuous network scanning involves monitoring for intrusions around the clock to reduce the likelihood of your IT system being breached by bad actors aiming to steal sensitive data. It also requires automatic alerts and reports that uncover the defence posture of your network, while indicating which employees could be a weak link in your security chain.

Continuous network scanning is vital, since no business can afford to take 280 days to identify and contain a data breach, which is how long it takes companies, on average, according to the 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report from IBM. That gives hackers 40 weeks to wreak havoc on a company's systems.

That’s why it’s important that security teams use a continuous approach to proactively find and patch vulnerabilities before – not after – a breach takes place.

Here are four types of scans to conduct as part of a holistic continuous network scanning strategy:

1. External Vulnerability Scans

This type of scan looks at your network from the hacker's perspective. It scans external IP addresses and domains, probing for vulnerabilities in internet-facing infrastructure to determine which ones can be exploited.

Vulnerability scans will discover and catalogue your core IP-connected endpoints, such as laptops, servers, peripherals, IoT-enabled machines and mobile devices. Image of ‘IOT’ on a circuit board

External vulnerability scans are best used to verify the strength of your externally-facing services. It helps to identify weaknesses in your perimeter defences, such as a firewall. These scans reveal not only your vulnerabilities, but also the list of ports that are open and exposed to the Internet.

Looking at your network from this point of view allows you to easily identify the most pressing issues within your network, including any services or new servers that have been set up since the last scan to see if they present any new threats to your organisation.

2. Internal Vulnerability Scans

Performed from a location with access to the internal network, internal vulnerability scans are more complex than external ones, because there are simply more potentially vulnerable assets within your organisation. This scan will discover and catalogue your core IP-connected endpoints, such as laptops, servers, peripherals, IoT-enabled machines and mobile devices.

Internal vulnerability scanners check these endpoints for vulnerabilities due to misconfigurations or unpatched software, so you can prioritise the devices that require immediate attention to properly secure the network.

Internal scans are best used for patch verification, or when you need to provide a detailed report of vulnerabilities within the network. When analysing the data, take note of trends such as the top missing patches and the most vulnerable machines.

Performing internal scans on a regular basis is a proactive approach to protecting your network from known vulnerabilities and helps you gain useful insight into your patch management process.

3. Host-Based Agents

A host-based agent lives on the device itself and tracks active processes, applications, Wi-Fi networks or USB devices that don't conform to company policies. It can then flag the user or IT team to fix the issue. In some cases, the agent can close the vulnerability by blocking the malicious action.

Host-based agents monitor system activity for signs of suspicious behaviour, including repeated failed login attempts, changes to the system registry or backdoor installations.

A host-based agent is not a complete solution. That’s because visibility is limited to a single host and attacks aren't seen until they have already reached the host. The passive nature of host-based technologies means that they are best suited for use in conjunction with the other types of security scans listed here, to take advantage of complementary strengths.

4. Penetration Testing Tools

IT teams can go beyond passive scanning with penetration testing tools. In penetration testing, security experts – also known as ethical hackers – simulate how malicious hackers may attempt to infiltrate your network.

These attacks help to verify the effectiveness of your cybersecurity efforts, identify any potential weak spots and test the human response capabilities of your security team and IT partners. Valuable and effective penetration testing tools are vital to gauge your system's security posture.

Types of Penetration Tests

Clear Box Tests

Your organisation provides penetration testers with a variety of security information relating to your systems to help them easily find vulnerabilities.

Blind Tests

Your company does not provide any security information about the system being penetrated to penetration testers, with the aim of exposing vulnerabilities that would otherwise go undetected.

Double-Blind Test

Your organisation does not provide penetration testers with security information and you do not inform your own computer security teams of the tests.

External Tests

Penetration testers attempt to find vulnerabilities in external-facing applications, such as websites, which can be accessed remotely.

Internal Tests

Penetration testing takes place on-premises and focuses on security vulnerabilities that someone within your organisation may use to their advantage.

Penetration testing can be critical. It shows you where and how a malicious attacker might exploit your network, allowing you to mitigate any weaknesses before a real attack occurs.

With the four security scanning methods we highlight here, your organisation will greatly reduce its risk of a data breach.

How Arctic Wolf Can Help

Arctic Wolf® Managed Risk provides visibility into the real-time threat landscape of your internal networks, external networks and endpoints to help you prioritise vulnerabilities, reduce exposure and effectively manage your cyber risk.

Unlike alternatives that rely strictly on automated approaches that make assessing vulnerabilities difficult, Arctic Wolf's Concierge Security® Team provides a quantified, real-time understanding of your cyber risks so you can take prioritised action to improve your risk and security posture. It complements Arctic Wolf® Managed Detection and Response to ensure you reduce both the likelihood and the impact of a cyberattack.